Nevermind had been released in the September of that year and whilst not a filthy as Nirvana’s debut album Bleach, it was to become the sound not only of that year but of so many transitionings from childhood to adolescence and from adolescence to adulthood. It was one of those rare times in life when the art and the music and the fashion and the vibe of the outsider suddenly, for a short while, became mainstream. And hell, did it fit with where we were at.
In fact, that year was thick with incredible releases. I was 13 going on 21 (or at least I thought I was) and was discovering freedom, weed, vodka, late nights and tonguing boys and girls round the back at Margo’s while her mum tried to get us out the house by chasing us with a broom. It feels a lifetime away, but at the same time, just a couple of pages back. Teenage Fanclub, Cypress Hill, Hole, the Orb, Orbital, My Bloody Valentine, Thin Lizzy, The Cure, Metallica and Pixies all released new albums that year. Like two streams converging – deep and dark and meaningful music and my teenage angst. Of course Status Quo and Bryan Adams and Jason Donovan were still releasing their own form of utter mindless shit at the same time, but it was like the volume had been turned down on the mundane and the beige, and life itself was dancing to a new beat.
Like any good, long lasting, meaningful movement, we had our music, and we had our clothes. Alt fashion that marked us out. Alt fashion that showed we knew what was what. Alt fashion that was too fucking cool for “adults” and just about right for us. We didn’t give a shit where you came from. The colour of your skin made no difference to us. Boy or girl; you could be in our gang so long as you understood.
Grunge, to be more specific for the time in question, was actually pretty Normcore; blue jeans and cardigans and long sleeve tees. Bits and pieces from dad’s wardrobe and the occasional logo tee. And 99% of the time there was a leather biker jacket somewhere to be seen. But it wasn’t just that it was the clothing of a youth movement that was important – it was that it was a continuation of youth breaking away from the strictures of parental control and finding, in places like Camden Market and the underground market at High Street Kensington (now long gone) that actually a few quid meant you could be part of the gang. We no longer needed mum to shop for us at Marks & Spencer or to order catalogue shit.
And from this and other notable branches of the same gene pool (Joy Division with their post punk ethos, The Cure and Siouxsie and the Banshees leading the Goth charge and later the East Coast Emo movements inspired by Blink 182 and MCR) grew a youth that expressed itself through its clothing and its music, through its inclusive social and economic politics, through its wants to protect and stand up for the ‘other’ that the old and fragmented society sneered at and rejected. Ripped jeans may have been an abhorrence to your mum, but to you they actually meant something.
And so when you’re browsing online or wandering the shops (will that ever happen again?) and you notice a hooped knitted oversized jumper or a pixie dress all in black, those black Converse One Stars and yes, even that leather biker jacket, remember fondly that you were part of, and are still part of, an alt fashion and indeed an alt life movement that, hopefully, joins with others of the same persuasion, is in the gang, and maybe makes the world just a little better. Alt fashion never felt so good in 2021.
Photography by the amazing Freddie Stisted